Published by Simon and Schuster in 2016, Matt Gallagher’s novel Youngblood
tells the story of newly minted lieutenant Jack Porter who is struggling to come to terms with the U.S. Military’s plan to withdraw from Iraq. Set mostly within the fictional town of Ashuriyah, Jack attempts to assert his authority within his new position but continues to feel increasingly undermined. The situation only grows worse when Daniel Chambers, a veteran sergeant, arrives on the scene, threatening to disrupt any order that Jack has managed to instill.
The book spans fifty chapters and nine months over the course of the year 2010. The action of the novel begins when Sergeant Chambers arrives in Ashuriyah, immediately inciting a rivalry with Jack. The two butt heads as their management styles prove to be contradictory—Chambers is reckless and impulsive, while Jack plans every move carefully, ensuring he is following protocol to a tee. Jack is concerned that Chambers’s lack of inhibitions will lead to an escalation of violence in an area where he has worked very hard to maintain calm and peace. Jack’s fears are realized after Chambers unnecessarily kills one of the Iraqi’s pet goats, leading the man to retaliate.
Following this incident, Jack receives a call from Haitham a local Iraqi source, who provides him with information about Chambers’s background and past history in the military. According to Haitham, during an earlier deployment, Chambers killed an Iraqi civilian who was unarmed at the time. Haitham encourages Jack to look into an American soldier named Elijah Rios, also known as Shaba, who died a few years back while on deployment. Jack visits Fat Mukhtar, a local sheik, in hopes of learning more about the man. Mukhtar has a photo of Shaba and tells Jack that, in spite of being an American, the man was very influential among the Arab people.
The power struggle between Jack and Chambers continues to escalate. On a rare day off together, the entire platoon gathers for a roast. Chambers makes a speech in front of all of the men, urging them to remain on high alert and not to demonstrate anything that could be mistaken for weakness in front of the Iraqis. Jack does not approve of Chambers’s approach, but the rest of the men seem to hang on his every word. In order to further demonstrate his point, Chambers forces a camel spider and a scorpion to fight. The scorpion emerges victorious after killing the spider, and the platoon agrees that they should be known as “The Scorpion Platoon.” Feeling as though he is losing control of his own men, Jack grows to resent Chambers’s presence even more. He thinks back to what Haitham told him about Chambers, resolving to get rid of him by revealing his true nature.
Jack meets with Alia, the outpost’s cleaning lady and prostitute. Alia used to be employed by a local sheik, and she tells Jack that Shaba was in love with the sheik’s daughter, Rana. However, he suddenly turned up dead one day and no one knew what had happened, as his body was never found.
The violence in Ashuriyah begins to escalate drastically, and several American soldiers are killed. At the same time, Jack’s platoon is tasked with capturing or killing a man known as Dead Tooth, a member of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization. Jack recognizes the man and thinks he knows where to find him. Meanwhile, a group of Iraqi soldiers moves in next door to Jack’s platoon, headed by Saif. Saif tells Jack that Shaba was killed by Karim, the son of the sheik with whose daughter Shaba was involved.
Jack then finds out that Haitham is actually a terrorist leader known commonly as the Cleric. He is instructed to either kill or capture Haitham alongside Dead Tooth. Jack receives a call from Haitham shortly thereafter, revealing the location of Shaba’s remains. Jack retrieves the remains, and it is confirmed that they are indeed the remains of Shaba’s body.
Jack and Chambers end up working together, organizing raids in which they successfully kill both Haitham and Dead Tooth. Jack then tracks down Rana, who he hopes can provide him with more information, especially now that Haitham is gone. She warns him about a particularly dangerous stretch of road where Al-Qaeda has planted explosives. After Rana expresses her desire to leave Iraq with her family, Jack organizes their escape through a smuggler named Yousef. However, all does not go according to plan, and when Yousef does not show up at the designated meeting spot, Jack realizes that he was the Cleric all along. Rana and her children are nowhere to be found, and Jack makes it his mission to locate her and make sure that she is safe.